Before Reed Sheppard finally committed to play basketball at the University of Kentucky where both his parents played, his sister was not convinced he was going to pick UK.
“It was about 50-50 with me,” said Madison Sheppard, a senior at Campbellsville University. “Part of me actually thought he would choose a different route. I am not going to lie because at one point I thought he might not pick Kentucky because there was so much pressure on him that people did not realize.
“But Kentucky got really consistent recruiting him and everything Kentucky presented was just awesome. Once we visited for Big Blue Madness together, I had a good feeling he would choose Kentucky then.”
Reed Sheppard, a 6-3 junior combo guard at North Laurel High School, is a top 20 player nationally in one recruiting service. Going into play this week, he was averaging 24.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting 58 percent overall from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range.
He was named Most Valuable Player in the King of the Bluegrass tournament and had a triple-double — 25 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists (along with four steals) — in the title game loss to Covington Catholic.
The five-star guard had visited Virginia, Ohio State, Indiana and Louisville before making his decision to play at Kentucky like his parents, Stacey Reed and Jeff Sheppard, did.
“I think he handled all the pressure well for a high school junior,” Madison Sheppard said. “There were times he was overwhelmed. He just wants to be a normal kid but it’s not going to get any easier for him just because he committed to UK. He decided that’s just how it will be and he can live with it.”
Madison was a successful high school player and was part of a winning program at Campbellsville before a back injury forced her to give up playing what would have been her senior season this year. She’s still part of the team — “It’s hard to sit on the bench and watch but I am a big cheerleader because all I can do is stand and yell as loud as I can.”
Reed Sheppard admitted his sister gave him sound advice during his recruitment.
“Chemistry is so important, and I explained to him to look at the way players interacted with one another on the teams he was looking at. Did he see any selfishness, or do they all love one another? I encouraged him to look at that,” she said.
“I told him to watch how the coaches interact with players outside of basketball. Are they invested in the players? I also told him to see if there was any type of team ministry and was it a priority for the team to put the Lord first because without the Lord there is no way to be successful.”
Reed Sheppard’s sister said UK’s team chemistry and the chemistry coach John Calipari had with the players was one reason her brother committed to UK. The players were watching football together and invested in other sports together. There were no signs of selfishness.
Madison Sheppard was not shy about asking college head coaches questions, either.
“One question I asked them was how do you plan to invest in Reed outside of basketball. A couple of coaches were thrown off by that, but Cal gave me a great answer,” Madison Sheppard said. “It was just important to me as an older sister to see what they had planned.
“Coach Cal calls me ‘The Protector’ because of how I look out for Reed. It’s funny how our last name is Sheppard and we also have that protective instinct like a shepherd. We look after each other.”
Now there were times with no love lost between sister and younger brother when they did play basketball against each other.
“There were actually very few times we played against each other because we were both so competitive it would end in a fight,” Madison Sheppard said. “I was really hard on Reed in some ways, but I was also super protective and proud of him since the moment he was born.”
Madison knows she gets to watch him another two seasons at North Laurel where he plays with his childhood friends.
“He loves to be around them. Now that he has all that weight off his shoulders about making a decision, he can relax and play and smile and just have fun,” Madison said. “I think he will have a phenomenal year. I know how excited fans are to see a future UK star play in all these high school gyms. He loves big games. He loves people hollering at him from the student sections. He embraces that because nobody loves to compete more than him.” s
Former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith is now the head coach at High Point and will bring his team to Rupp Arena Friday to play Kentucky. Before the game, Smith will have his jersey retired.
Smith led UK to the 1998 national championship in his first season as head coach. Kentucky had a dramatic 17-point comeback against Duke in the final 10 minutes of the South Region to get to the Final Four.
Kentucky won at least 22 games in each of Smith’s 10 seasons and had a 263-83 record that included five regular season SEC titles and five SEC Tournament championships. His teams never failed to make the NCAA Tournament and had a 23-9 mark in NCAA play.
Smith was also a three-time National Coach of the Year (1998, 2003, 2005).
“I will be honest, in my experiences with him, and I have known him for a long time, he is an unbelievably nice person. He is one of the nicest people I have been associated with in this profession. I am happy for him,” Kentucky assistant coach Bruiser Flint said.
“You look back, he did a great job here. It’s nice they are going to honor him. It is deserved. He is a very kind person, a great guy to talk to. Just a very great person and great coach.”
Smith never made another Final Four after winning the 1998 national title but had three teams — 1999, 2003 and 2005 — reach the Elite Eight.
“I realize he won the national championship but they went to four or five Elite Eights, too,” Flint said. “When you look at that you say, ‘Wow. He had a hell of a career here.’
“He definitely deserves to have his jersey up there (in Rupp Arena). He accomplished a lot. It’s a tough job. The expectations are always high but when you look back, you have to say he did an unbelievable job.” s
Jon Sumrall will use a lot of what he learned at Kentucky as a player and coach now that he is the head coach at Troy University.
Sumrall’s final game at UK is the Citrus Bowl and he says working under head coach Mark Stoops helped him learn how to “evaluate the most important factors” in how to build a program.
“Mark Stoops is very thorough, very detailed. He has great relationships with players. Guys on the roster understand how much he cares about them,” the UK co-defensive coordinator said.
“He is also very good football wise. He sees the game in a way that is very impressive. His expertise as an assistant coach was defensive backs but he sees the whole game. He has great vision for what is the right recipe to win games.”
Sumrall said Stoops knows how to devise a game plan without occupying too much of his players’ time to make sure he keeps them fresh for practice and games.
Sumrall also coached under former UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown after Brown left Kentucky to become Troy’s head coach (Brown is now the head coach at West Virginia). Sumrall has talked to Brown “a ton” during his transition time from UK to Troy.
“Neal pays so much attention to detail. He leaves nothing to chance. He is just ridiculously detailed,” Sumrall said “I watched him the whole time I worked for him and took notes of a lot of things he did. There are so many things that I will do that will be drawn from Neal and Mark.
“I know I have got to be myself. I can’t try to be somebody else. But I am fortunate to have a lot of experiences with great coaches that will help me.”
Sumrall led UK in tackles in 2004 from his linebacker position but an injury ended his career. The next season he worked as a graduate assistant for UK coach Rich Brooks.
“Coach Brooks was amazing to me. I was coming off being the team leader in tackles and was probably going to be team captain if I did what I supposed to do when my career ended. It was devastating,” Sumrall said.
“Looking back I think it was God’s plan to jump start my coaching career,” Sumrall said. “Coach Brooks’ mentorship of me was unparalleled. He gave me opportunities and a chance to stay involved in football. I owe him a lot.” s
Freshman guard TyTy Washington was averaging 13.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game after 11 games but his father, Tee Washington, says UK fans still have not seen his best yet.
“I think there is a lot more that you haven’t seen that we know he can do,” Tee Washington said. “With TyTy, whether he scores 1 point or 100 points, he is going to dive for loose balls, defend, rebound, run. He’s all about the team.”
His father has not been surprised by what his son has done on the court — “he’s been playing basketball his whole life, so we’ve seen all this.” However, one other thing has surprised him.
“The maturity he has gotten being away from mom and dad has surprised me. You talk to him and now see the young man I have always envisioned him being,” Tee Washington said.
TyTy Washington has not let signing deals that enabled him to drive a Porsche and have a signature meal named for him at Fazolis have an impact his play.
“Trust me, we were never thinking about any deals like that when he signed with Kentucky,” the UK freshman guard’s father said. “We were just thinking what a great opportunity it would be to get on the court and show what he could do. Remember even in March we never thought he would be playing at Kentucky. Then once he did commit, we never thought he would walk in and be playing 30 minutes a game.” s
Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury, a Kentucky native, has seen a lot of special performances by UK players during his time coaching at Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Western. However, nothing has topped what he saw from Oscar Tshiebwe last week when UK beat his team 95-60.
Tshiebwe had a Rupp Arena record 28 rebounds — the most by a UK player since Mike Phillips also had 28 in 1976. He had one more rebound than the entire Western team. He grabbed an astonishing 42 percent of the missed shots in the game.
Stansbury says Tshiebwe has always been about rebounding more than anything else.
“I thought this when I saw him as a high school guy. Rebounding is about half ability, and that other half is about will, the will, that motor. He did that in high school,” Stansbury said after the game.
“One thing to separate him from every other big guy in the country was his motor on the offensive boards. He just has always done that. Then naturally now, Cal’s got him scoring a little bit. So, when you score a little bit, too, that just gives you more energy.”
Western Kentucky played West Virginia during the 2020-21 season when Tshiebwe was still with the Mountaineers. He had seven points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
“He’s got a lot better offensively. We played him last year, when he was at West Virginia. He’s not even close to the player offensively he was, so give their staff a lot of credit,” Stansbury said.
“They’ve done a good job developing him at Kentucky. He’s got a motor, takes a lot of pride in rebounding. That’s why he’s the best in the country at it. Twenty-eight rebounds? I’ve never had anybody go get 28 rebounds.” s
Quote of the Week: “You can’t fight a ghost on social media. You can have your best game and somebody will criticize you. Just let people be. We make sure he understands not to respond on social media. You can’t win,” Tee Washington, father of UK point guard TyTy Washington, on advice to his son about social media.
Quote of the Week 2: “Really I wish they were still at Penn State and Nebraska, quite frankly, because they’re both good players. We played against them, but that’s not going to help us stop them,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on facing Will Levis and Wan’Dale Robinson in Saturday’s Citrus Bowl.
Quote of the Week 3: “We all need to help out. It’s going take some time for Mayfield to get back going the way it needs to be,” UK football associate coach Vince Marrow after his visit to western Kentucky to see the tornado damage.